Balboa Park Botanical Building and Lily Pond – San Diego, California - Atlas Obscura

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Balboa Park Botanical Building and Lily Pond

Balboa Park

Built for an exposition in 1915, these horticultural displays have stood the test of time. 


If you’ve been looking for a peaceful place to find your slice of zen, look no further. The botanical building and lily pond at Balboa Park in San Diego is exactly what you need for a relaxing respite away from the daily grind. A vibrant array of water lilies and lotus bloom along the shallow reflecting pond, originally constructed for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915.

The Botanical Building is one of the world’s largest structures made of lath—thin strips of wood or metal attached to vertical supports. Laths often serve as supports, and are covered by plaster to make interior walls. But for the Balboa Park building, the redwood laths were left uncovered, so sunlight can filter through the walls. The Botanical Building is made up of approximately 70,000 feet of lath, held up by steel supports and curved to fit its elegant arches and large central dome. Its construction was proposed by Alfred D. Robinson, founder and president of the San Diego Floral Society.

The lily pond that stands outside the Botanical Building was also created for the Panama-California Exposition. It is the largest body of water in Balboa Park—during World War I, the lily pond was used for Naval training exercises.

In January 2022, renovations began on the century-old botanical building, a project that is expected to last 18-24 months. The interior of the building is closed during the renovation process, but the lagoon and walkways are open and accessible. Smooth, paved paths and shaded rest areas make this an accessible retreat year-round. It is a lovely place to be closer to nature, where you can feel the rich history combined with lively, modern culture.

Know Before You Go

The interior building with additional plant specimens is temporarily closed for renovations. Surrounding gardens and museums are open to visitors.

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